30/04/2008 - 22:00

‘M’ is for missed opportunity

30/04/2008 - 22:00


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Well, it’s happened – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has begun using that ‘M’ word, proof positive he’s heading down a well-worn road.

‘M’ is for missed opportunity

Well, it’s happened – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has begun using that ‘M’ word, proof positive he’s heading down a well-worn road.

In an interview the day after the 2020 summit, attended by so many of Australia’s biggest egos, Mr Rudd claimed to have, wait for it, a mandate to govern, the same word his Labor predecessor, Gough Whitlam, constantly spruiked.

We know how his fanciful years shaped up.

A good old-fashioned Labor loyalist should quietly tell Mr Rudd he got nothing of the sort at last November’s election.

What he got was a fairly sizeable swing in his home state of Queensland that was decreasingly repeated in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.

In Western Australia the swing to Labor wasn’t very substantial, particularly when one considers the Howard government had been in power since 1996.

Furthermore, Labor actually lost two seats, which, after the Liberal loss of the marginal seat of Hasluck, became a net one seat Labor loss.

Mr Rudd should, therefore, be doubly cautious when tempted to use that ‘M’ word this side of the Nullarbor.

Although he won a sizeable number of east coast seats he’s only in power by a 10-seat margin.

To start calling that a mandate – a traditional Chinese dynastic notion that is, if not anti-democratic then certainly non-democratic, shows a lack of contact with reality.

And that’s the real danger.

The fact is, Mr Rudd hasn’t got a mandate, just a very temporary hold on executive power.

What Labor has is unprecedented majorities in all the nation’s parliaments.

But he needs to remember that all the clocks are ticking in the national, state and territorial electoral commissions, which means those cardboard ballot boxes will soon begin coming out again.

Put otherwise, the nearly 45-to-50 percent of voters who didn’t back Labor at past national, state, and territory elections could very easily jump to the 50 per cent mark, putting Labor back into opposition.

Yes, that old peacock-to-feather-duster story all over again.

Parliamentary democracies, thankfully, aren’t Chinese dynasties, several of which survived for centuries.

Mr Rudd undoubtedly needs reminding of this.

Perhaps someone should tell him, preferably in Mandarin.

It’s time he descended from cloud nine and looked long and hard at the essential issues.

Seventeen-day world trips, weekend talkfests with celebrities – from Cate Blanchett to Hugh Jackman and over 100 GetUp activists – and constantly being photographed with school children, actors, and sporting identities, is fine and undoubtedly makes one feel good.

But a time comes when all the ballyhoo must give way to the hard grind of governance.

Governing Australia isn’t some pop-show where fatuous comments come a dime a dozen.

No-one has noted this better than The Australian’s insightful political commentator, George Megalogenis, who warned of the danger that the coming Rudd years may have nothing to show, only lots of hype.

“The term ‘do-nothing government’ was coined for [former Victorian premier, Steve] Bracks, but it applies equally to his northern comrades,” George Megalogenis wrote.

“[Bob] Carr ruled NSW for 10 years and left behind the nation’s most sluggish state economy and most inept government.

“[Peter] Beattie was in charge of Queensland for nine years, during which time Brisbane almost ran out of water and the state’s public hospital system became notorious for killing its patients.

“Bracks was in charge of Victoria for eight years and left Melbourne with a Sydney-like transportation gridlock.

“Rudd invites the comparison with Carr, Beattie and Bracks because his agenda, uniquely for a federal government, transforms state problems into national reform priorities.”

Well put.

State Scene’s only quibble is Magalogenis’ failure to add Geoff Gallop to his do-nothings list.

Yes, why forget Mr Bracks’ unmemorable western comrade?

What have Western Australians got to show from the Gallop years?

And please, not the Mandurah-to-Joondalup railway. That’s been coming since the Burke years.

Yes, that long ago.

Also forget the so-called resources boom – China buying so much iron ore, other minerals, and natural gas – which can hardly be attributed to anything Dr Gallop did.

The only truly original thing to emerge from those Gallop years was the sudden and unexpected boom in lobbying and lobbyists.

We now have nearly 80 lobbyists shown on the government’s lobbyists’ list, with the successful ones nearly all former Labor MPs, one-time Labor officials or past Labor staffers.

Dr Gallop thus has the unique distinction of seeing the birth of an unnecessary sector that’s mainly benefited his Labor colleagues and their pals.

The main reason for the emergence of this unnecessary boom in continuing  behind-closed-doors activities is that business found it damn hard, if not impossible, to get things done, so turned to Labor middle men and women to help push and shove their cases.

Dr Gallop came up with something called “process driven government”, which, translated into simple English meant decisions seemed to be always in the process of being made.

Little wonder he increasingly found being premier a depressing ordeal and departed to academia in Sydney.

Which brings us back to those other former Labor premiers – Messrs Carr, Bracks and Beattie – who have also fled their leadership posts after accomplishing so little.

Perhaps the new Labor trend of fleeing early is due primarily to a realisation deep down that they’ve been failures, so could not confront that reality any longer.

A good case can be made for such an assessment, one that Mr Megaloginis has thankfully raised.

But back to Mr Rudd.

The one thing Australia can’t afford is another show pony Labor leader.

Don’t get too carried away with the resources boom because it, like wall-to-wall Labor governments, may not last.

Things are far from rosy inside and beyond Australia.

We have a huge segment of our population that’s been excluded from enjoying the benefits of modern life because of decades of governmental short-sightedness.

Yes, this refers to Australia’s Aboriginal minority, especially those destined for a lifetime in depressed third world-style so-called ‘communities’ and ‘out-stations’.

Australia has governmental and administrative duplication and over-regulation that costs billions annually.

One estimate put the cost of duplication between our tiers of government at $20 billion, while the Business Council of Australia last year claimed it was $9 billion, which shows no-one really knows the actual cost.

And the reason is that Canberra – under both major parties – has been encroaching upon the other two tiers of government; a practice Mr Rudd seems determined to accelerate.

Just fixing that would keep his government busy for a year or two.

But what’s happening?

Our over-regulating proclivity – more and more legislation – was this month highlighted by New Zealand’s former National Party leader, Dr Don Brash, in a lecture he delivered in Auckland.

He said Australia’s Productivity Commission estimated that complying with regulations was costing 4 per cent of GDP, or about $40 billion in money terms.

“Unquantified, and probably unquantifiable, is the almost certainly much greater cost imposed by regulations which simply stop investment occurring altogether,” Mr Brash said.

That’s a cool $50 billion to $60 billion in just two areas.

Someone should tell Mr Rudd that we didn’t need a costly talkfest to identify that problem, among others.

The fact that he’s been in Canberra for a well-paid decade means he should known such things, rather than unnecessarily gathering so many of the nation’s top egos for a weekend of jawboning.

Stop pussyfooting around with celebrities and coming up constantly with spin and get on with the job, Mr Rudd.


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